Juneteenth is America’s newest federal holiday. But how much do you know about this pivotal date in our nation’s history? Find out more about Juneteeenth’s significance, what it means to workers and how to celebrate it.
In 2021, President Joe Biden formalized Juneteenth as a federal holiday in the United States, signing into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. It had been a long time coming, arguably since the original date of June 19, 1865, when Abraham Lincoln’s earlier Emancipation Proclamation was finally enforced in Galveston, Texas — thus freeing those slaves still held at the farthest territorial corner of the recently ended Civil War.
Church congregations across Texas began marking the anniversary the very next year. Since then, Juneteenth has grown slowly but steadily to encompass nationwide, mainstream festivities based around food, songs and celebrations of African-American culture. In recent times, states such as New York, Oregon and Virginia have made Juneteenth an official state holiday, while high-profile corporations like Twitter and Nike now give employees the day off to highlight the significance of June 19.
how are employers marking Juneteenth?
A Randstad USA survey shows that since the holiday went federal last year, there’s been a four percent increase in businesses honoring Juneteenth by giving workers the day off — although for around half those workers (51%), it’s not paid time off. At the same time, some 81 percent don’t mark the date in any other way. This leaves employees scope to suggest or to organize their own commemorations, which could be formally planned company events or more casual social arrangements among colleagues.
The survey also shows that 63 percent of workers understand what Juneteenth represents. Events around the holiday can be used to raise awareness among those who don’t, while also promoting diversity and inclusion more generally. And, of course, sharing in the fun and joy of the occasion.
what are some ways to celebrate Juneteenth?
Following are some simple, respectful and effective ideas for marking Juneteenth. If you’re running out of time to organize activities for 2022, pencil them in for next year.
- It’s now common for workplaces to recognise the solemnity of slavery and emancipation by arranging a minute’s silence on June 19 (or the nearest weekday).
- You can raise Juneteenth consciousness and understanding with fact sheets circulated by email, or with lunchtime or after-work screenings of movies like “Miss Juneteenth” and documentaries like “I Am Not Your Negro.” Prefer to get out of the office? Schedule a visit to a Black history museum or a former plantation now repurposed as a learning center.
- Consider inviting an African-American guest — perhaps a business leader, artist or athlete — to talk about what Juneteenth means to them personally and/or in a community context. It can also be very powerful to have a speaker read relevant passages by a renowned Black writer like Ta-Nehisi Coates, Maya Angelou or James Baldwin.
- The more festive aspects of Juneteenth are bound up in sharing food, especially in Texas where the holiday originated. A Texan-style BBQ for fellow staff makes a great way to celebrate, and an outdoor space set aside for the event could be decorated with Ben Haith’s famously striking design for the Juneteenth flag. It makes sense to contract local Black-owned businesses for catering and entertainment too.
- Music and dance have also become vital to Juneteenth, and you can participate by attending or arranging a related performance by African-American singers, choirs, bands or DJs. The deepest feelings of the day are commonly expressed by church songs like “Lift Every Voice” or soul standards like Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” but the tempo can get plenty upbeat too.
Juneteenth at Randstad
Juneteenth is such an important day at Randstad USA that our African Heritage Business Resource Group turned it into a three-week program of conscious conversations, happy hours and movie screenings. If you want to join a company that puts belonging at the center of its culture, browse our open positions today.